Saturday, September 24, 2005

Thoughts from Paris...

Well..sort of. I'm back in the UK now, but I jotted down a few things while I was in Paris last weekend. To start, I have to say that Paris is a much more impressive city than London. I guess for a lot of people this is old news, but it's my first time in Europe so I'm still doing that compare/contrast thing.

One of the first things I noticed while I was riding the Paris Metro was the huge billboard for 50 cent's (for those of you who read this and don't know who 50 cent is, he is a well known rapper) new album. Now it struck me as an odd thing at first. I just wasn't expecting something so familiar to me to be in the Paris metro. I especially didn't expect 50 to be there. But it solidified something that I had thought while I was in Cuba. Hip Hop, or more specifically American Pop music, is quickly becoming an international form of communication. Now whether that is a good or a bad thing is up for debate. Yet you hip hop is truly everywhere.

Along those lines however, I also did come across something else familiar. Salsa. While I was checking in to the hostel there was a man from Senegal sitting behind the desk. Funny enough, Senegal is in West Africa, my destination in a week. He was listening to the station, which promoted me to talk to him in Spanish. Turns out he spoke Spanish very fluently (which was good because I don't speak a bit of French). It turns out there is a pretty huge population of people in Paris who really dig Salsa, Merengue, and all other sorts of tasty Afro-Caribbean beats. Who can blame them? He was also able to tell me that in Senegal there are styles of music that have been heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean music. It got me thinking and I may try to hop over there while I'm in Ghana...let's see what happens.

It is really easy to fall in love with a city like Paris. It has so much charisma and attitude. It's a lot like New York in that way. Despite all the stereotypes about the French being rude to Americans (or English speakers for that matter), most of the people I talked to or encountered were in fact very friendly and very helpful...even with my obvious American accent. It was funny because people would call me out on being American...and although I don't often classify myself as American, usually I say Latino, Puerto Rican, ect., none of that makes sense out to people. To them, the way I speak is American, my passport says I'm American, then the logical conclusion is that I must be American.

At first I have to say it pissed me off. Who wants to be American in at a time like this? All we do is cause pain abroad. We do a poor job at helping or own; New Orleans has exposed this all to well. The last thing I want to be called is American. Yet a trip to a quirky little book store in the Latin Quarter of Paris put things into a different perspective. I found this book of portrait titled American. It had a series of portraits of Americans, both famous and not. It had doctors, lawyers, teachers, homeless people. It was a interesting look at who American's are. Racists, Rappers, Mothers, Fathers, heroes, Soldiers, Peace activisit, Billionairs, Homeless, Poor...there was something powerful in seeing a collection of so many contradicting images put together in one book. No, this is not one of those moments where I say we should all be proud of who we are and "why can't we all just get along". That's bullshit. But, it did make me think differently about America. And it made me feel less embarrassed about being from America. There is something to be said about our democracy. There is something to be said about our country. What that is? I'm not too sure. But the book was powerful, and I found it very funny that it was looking at it so far from home. I suppose sometimes you need to step back from things for a while so that you can see it in a new light.

One thing is certain though. No matter how far I travel from America, it is always there. McDonald's, Starbucks, Toys R Us, there was even a Euro Disney in Paris. It's so disgusting it is brilliant. America has perfected the art of Capitalism and global domination so well that even the French, who are so culturally proud, are tricked into going to Disneyland and eating McDonald's and Starbucks. With all the delicious cafes in the whole of Paris, the longest line was coming out of Starbucks. Brilliantly disgusting. That's whay I say. The more I see, the funnier this world becomes. Nothing makes sense anymore sense than the day I left New York. In fact things make less sense. But I have to say...I am enjoying my self a great deal.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I just wrote a really long blog about my past weekend experiences with the major Korean holiday, and other deep stuff about self-introspection, revelations, solidarity, "culture shock"....but because this website is in ALL KOREAN I JUST DELETED IT.

It is a perfect example of how things are going in my life right now. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't at a PC Bang ("bahng" or computer room) and wasn't paying for all the time I just spent here. xP

And all because I was trying to edit the blog and make sure I gave Jubin a shout because he is the only faithful reader and commenter. Pooh on you, you get a stinky shout....( know i love you...)

My prayers are with you Hilary, please get better (she thinks she has dengue fever!)...And I have thankful prayers that Kristofer is back safe from Paris (lucky!!)...and love to Nicole who will be joining our international crew soon, enjoy your own bathroom and bed while you still can!!!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Union Fenosa

People say that the true effects of corporations on government are most easily seen in third world countries. We talk about corporate control of the media, but mostly we talk about blatant corporate exploitation of resources, both human and natural, in reference to Free Trade zones, and distant places in the rest of the world.
Here in Nicaragua, there is currently an energy crisis that has given new meaning to corporate power in my book. In the 1990’s, the government sold control over the nation’s electrical system to Union Fenosa, a Spanish multinational. Union Fenosa inherited complete control over all of the electrical infrastructure in the country, and obviously, the right to distribute and charge for their services.
Prices for electricity in Nicaragua quickly skyrocketed, as Union Fenosa is the only supplier of electricity in the country (none of that competition that capitalists talk so much about here). They have reached a point that many Nicaraguans complain daily about energy costs, which approach first world prices in a country where many people are living on less that $2 a day.
Last month, Union Fenosa made a move to raise prices all over the country. Due in part to popular protests, the national Supreme Court somehow made a decision to deny the power company the right to raise prices in order to keep its high profit margin. In response to this, Union Fenosa has begun arbitrary power cuts for four to eight hours a day all over the country. This means that grocery stores, internet cafés, factories, hospitals, the international airport, not to mention private homes, are suddenly finding themselves without power in the middle of the day. Obviously, these blackout periods are wreaking havoc on the national economy, costing large and small businesses alike in time, resources, and money.
Union Fenosa says that the cuts are necessary, that they are valid, and that the government has no right to regulate their prices, or to determine what their profit margin should be. They have taken in upon themselves, then, to control the government through a sort of blackmail. So far, there seems to be no solution in the works, merely more dark days.
All this puts to mind however, the questions of who is in the right here? If the government does give in to the electrical company, are they responding to blackmail? As the builders of the electrical system through tax dollars, do the people still have the right to demand reasonable prices, despite the fact that the government sold the infrastructure to a private enterprise that has done little to no improvements and remains expensive and unreliable? Should a multinational corporation have this much influence over a national government and economy? Or should there be a limit?
In my opinion, people should be able to get reasonable service for a reasonable price. The company should NOT be allowed to blackmail the government into allowing a price increase, and someone should look deeper into what the profits of Union Fenosa are. Corporate accountability, where are you? That is another benefit of local control I suppose, that there is an office or a person to talk to, not merely a company spokesman who goes on TV and gives a statement but doesn’t answer questions; not merely an entity that has so many faces that no one has to or can step up and take responsibility for the bad things the company is doing. Hopefully I’ll be able to get this up before the power goes out again…

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


The first night that I arrived in Estelí, at the home of my surrogate grandmother’s son, she showed me into the one bedroom in the three room apartment. When we were to go to sleep, I imagined that she and I were to share the double bed; instead Dora lay down on the floor, telling me that she had a cot.
When the next day, I realized that she had slept on two towels, telling me she slept on a mattress, I insisted that she share the bed with me, but not before feeling horrified at myself for not realizing earlier she had been sleeping on the floor.
In Cuba, I was given the following as one definition of solidarity:
“Solidarity is not giving of your extra, but rather sharing what you have”.
As I exist here, in these communities, I am being surrounded by actions of solidarity. They are actions of acceptance, of generosity, of love and openness such as I could not have imagined and feel scarcely able to repay.
I have been allowed to enter people’s homes, their lives, and their hearts, simply because I have shown up and been interested. They have done everything in their power to make me feel happy, at home, and taken care of, from buying me purified water to not allowing me to shower if it is too late and I may catch cold, to making sure they know about my family, where I come from, and that I feel loved right where I am.
Those of us that come to visit the “third world”, to be in solidarity with people whose lives may differ greatly from our own, really have no way of anticipating the solidarity that, according to the above definition, is extended to us. We come to show solidarity by participating in a coffee harvest for seven days or help to build a bridge before heading back to our lives and problems at home, whereas here, people open up seemingly more deeply, share more of what they have, by giving of their time, attention, homes, history, and knowledge.
While I know that any exchange of this kind, that creating increased understanding and working to build solidarity through fostering personal connections and experiences, is impossible without mutual participation, I am struck to the core by the unconditional acceptance I have received since my arrival.
It is hard work for me to see, let alone examine and synthesize, what it means to be here, from the United States, with money to spend and my light skin and hair. It is hard to understand the lives of young women who married at 14, began working in a cigar factory at 15, and now take care of their children alone while their lovers are in other countries for 5 years hopefully sending a few dollars home. Impossible to comprehend the struggle of new friends who have lost innumerable children and loved ones to a revolution, who have witnessed so much violence and upheaval in the hopes of achieving a better future which still seems a very long way off. But in the midst of all of this, befriending becomes easier, depression moves away, and turns to awe when these same people, facing unbelievable difficulties with scarce resources, turn to me and smile. They illustrate their power, resilience, and humanity by turning to me with laughter, with jokes, with political satire, accompanied by rosquillas (a traditional Nicaraguan cookie) and fresh coffee. This whole experience is an inspiration and a profound reminder that people everywhere are wonderful, deep, multi-faceted people; and that even in the midst of poverty, hunger, pain and struggle, we are full of love and a desire to connect and share.

Monday, September 05, 2005

See George Run...

I though that this might be a year that I could give thinking about American politics a rest. Well...that was a foolish thought. Especially because the British love to bash their politicians. The recent disaster in New Orleans has made it open season on the American government here in Britain...and for good reason. Traditionally the British stick to just bashing their politicians, but when word came that four days after Katrina hit New Orleans, Bush was still chilling in his ranch on a summer break (not to mention that since he's been in office he's been on vacation for just under a year), the British media went crazy on Bush, Rice, Cheney, and the whole gang.

New Orleans has truly been an embarrassment to our nation. But for what it's worth, it has exposed a number of things. One, it's exposed the huge inequality between the rich and the poor in the worlds most powerful and richest nation. While all the rich people got the hell out of New Orleans (with all their valuables, no doubt) the poor were left to drown, starve, bake, and perish. When help didn't come, they turned to looting. I don't think anyone will say that killing people and stealing is justifiable, but in all reality, what else could we have expected? New Orleans is one of the poorest (and roughest) cities to begin with. What else could have been the outcome of four days of neglect?

Thousands of women, children, and elderly (mostly poor black and poor white) were dying in New Orleans and Bush did nothing to show that he was in the least bit concerned. It was mostly his fault that the emergency services were so late or so ill prepared for this disaster (Half of the Louisiana National Guard is "helping out" in Iraq and much of their equipment is out there as well). Then he thinks that by flying over the disaster area and kissing a few teenage girls.....things will, perhaps with his divine powers, be all better.

Yet today, as the New York Times reports the death of Supreme Court Judge William Rehnquist, Bush moves the fastest he has ever (even faster than he did when he heard about the attacks on September 11th) to find a replacement. The headline litteraly changed as I was writing this entry. Thank you for your swift action Mr. President, we now see exactly where your priorities are. God Bless you and your buddies...and no one else.